Legalizing Immigrants vs. Twelve Dollars for a Head of Lettuce

Lately I have had (as have all of us) reason to wonder if there’s a solution to the problem of Hispanics illegally working and immigrating here. And after reading about and studying the matter, I’ve concluded that there simply isn’t.

Here’s the way I’m understanding the matter. As ever, I welcome further enlightenment.

We Americans like Hispanics working for as little money as they’re constrained to. We like anyone providing us our goods and services for as cheaply as possible.

What makes our problem with Hispanic workers so profoundly unique is that we can’t outsource the work they do for us, in the way we outsource pretty much every other good and service that we possibly can. Because the work for us that Hispanics do, they do here. They work in restaurants and businesses galore here. They pick the produce that grows here, on this land.

There’s just no way to get a poor little kid in [insert woefully underdeveloped foreign country here] to, say, pick our lettuce. All the work that Hispanics do for us must be done locally.

Making our Hispanic workers legal would mean being constrained by law to pay them minimum wage; and their employers will, of course, also have to then incur the great many costs that come with hiring American citizens: unemployment insurance, worker’s compensation, paid leave benefits, and so on.

And those costs would drive through the roof the end prices of the countless goods and services now provided us by Hispanic workers.

If we do the right thing by the Hispanics who live, work, and immigrate here, then life for all Americans will become so frightfully expensive it will plunge untold (more) numbers of us into poverty. None but the wealthiest among us are capable of absorbing the costs that would result from doing the (let’s face it) morally correct thing with regards to illegal Hispanic workers. It would break most everybody else.

We either completely radicalize our entire values system, or the rich start willingly surrendering humongous chunks of their money.

And we know neither one of those things will happen.

And so hundreds of thousands if not millions of Hispanics immigrants will continue to be systematically exploited. And unless I’m missing something, that problem’s very quickly going nowhere at all.


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  • Sancombmoran

    The thing is, this economic argument is virtually the same one used by the South in the mid-1800’s: we can’t get rid of slavery because it will decimate our economy/we can’t run our plantations/we won’t be able to harvest the cotton. We’re a pretty smart group of people here in the US; someone will discover a way to pick this stuff less expensively. Or, if not, we’ll get used to expensive produce. But allowing employers to exploit these people is wrong – and is one of my leading arguments against illegal immigration. We’re creating a new class of slavery with these folks.

  • Cpace02

    That’s a good point, Sancombmoran. I offer, though, that the United State’s reliance on slave labor didn’t disappear after the Emancipation Proclamation. We simply designated new classes of people to exploit.

    Personal and community gardens are growing in popularity. Maybe that is part of a creative solution…

  • Shaunamac

    Interesting article. I am of the belief that if immigrant workers are needed, then the most fair solution is to make immigrants legal, and pay them (and tax them) just like everyone else.
    If the price of lettuce goes up, I don’t think this will plunge our country into poverty. There are other options: grow your own lettuce in your backyard or in a community garden. Stay home and cook your own meals and wash your own dishes. Learn to live on cheaper alternatives like beans and rice instead of on hamburgers and fries. In the long run, we’d probably all be healthier. Perhaps this is the radical shift in values that you are talking about.

  • Aye. The necessary evil argument is pretty vile. It reminds me of the my own countrymen last century and their “drive towards the east” to gain supposedly necessary “Lebensraum”, or the “manifest destiny” claim that resulted in the virtual genocide of many Native American nations. Once you realize that it is evil (free will, remember) you should put faith in both human ingenuity and God’s providence to make the world a better place. What, Mr. Shore, do you think Jesus would want? How about putting your money where your faith supposedly is. ^_^

  • I think people aren’t looking at the problem from the right end. Yes, we love cheap labor, we love that there are no extra costs involved when we hire undocumented workers, etc. The reason we love all that is because hiring American workers these days has become so exhorbitantly expensive it’s nearly impossible, not to mention so frustrating and annoying because of all these Americans’ tender widdle feelings and hypersensitivity and politcal correctness. When you hire an American worker now, you can’t just be their employer — you have to be their mommy & daddy & BFF, you have to provide them with the appropriate workplace “culture”, any variety of parties and picnics and other social outlets, etc.

    So the solution isn’t to provide undocumented workers with all these goodies and perks and feel-goodness and so forth. The solution is to stop babying American workers. Yes, everyone deserves a wage they can live on and basic benefits that allow them to provide for their healthcare and their retirement. But the stranglehold unionized workers have on the taxpayer these days is ridiculous. It’s obscene.

    Unions have outlived their usefulness. Get rid of unions and free up competition for jobs. If Americans were willing to do half the work for twice as much as an undocumented worker does, none of this would be an issue.

  • John: I’ve been talking about this for years. It’s the ugly truth of this that no one on either side of the immigration issue wants to mention. A few things though:

    1) you really mean “Hispanics” because really, what you refer to as Mexicans could also be people from Central and South America as well

    2) Read “The Next 100 Years”e by George Friedman, if you ever have a chance. He’s a geo-politicist who predicts what he thinks the 21st century will be like. By his estimates, we’ll be shaking our heads in 30 years for trying to keep immigrants and migrant laborers out of the country, because the available labor force will be so diminished since most of the native born workers will be over the age of 40. We’ll be begging people to come and work in America.

    Samncombmoran: your partially right, but if the conditions in a migrant workers native country wasn’t worse then here, they wouldn’t be coming here to work. There will always be some exploitation in the world, but we’ve come a long way in 400 years since slavery and sharecropping and company towns. Underpaid is a form of exploitation but it’s not the worst. Currency is relative. Doesn’t make sub minimum wage ok, but, it’s not like someone just wakes up one day and says “I’m going to travel 100’s or thousands of miles to work for a worse job with worse pay”.

    What we really need to is figure out exactly how should a nation function. Borders are intangible. There’s no 3000 mile wall and their never will be. You go to a country and work, you have a shared tax. Simple. If your not a criminal, your free to travel and work where you please; if you are, then you’re not.

  • Anonymous

    You know, I purposefully put “Mexicans” instead of Hispanics because here in San Diego it really is a matter of (primarily) Mexicans. But I think you’re right; I’ll change it. Thanks.

  • Anonymous

    You know, I purposefully put “Mexicans” instead of Hispanics because here in San Diego it really is a matter of (primarily) Mexicans. But I think you’re right; I’ll change it. Thanks.

  • Anonymous

    How about you not dare to presume to have any idea whatsoever of what I do with money, you arrogant prick?

  • Don Whitt

    Oh my goodness, John. I disagree with you. I think this is a healthy phase of our relationship, though.

    My thoughts:

    There are some even bigger aspects of this we need to understand. Personally, I’ll pay $12/head for lettuce.

    50% of Mexico’s revenues come from migrants working in the US. At least that’s what I’ve read, and believe. That’s huge. We are essentially supporting Mexico through a black market economy in the US. What’s the logical outcome for both countries in that scenario? It can’t be good.

    Gang violence in Mexico is partly driven by the fact that selling drugs is one the few ways to earn a living in Mexico. It’s also driven by our lousy control of our US firearms (I’m an NRA member, fyi, but I break ranks on this issue – the main issue – with my fellow gun owners).

    Ultimately, our military will be in Juarez and Monterrey the way they are in Baghdad today. We will spend trillions to “solve” the issue of drugs and poverty in Mexico. Mark my words.

    So which is more expensive: paying more for produce now or cultivating a malignant shit-storm in Mexico and, eventually, Central America?

    And which is more moral?

  • Ace

    Honestly, there are plenty of other countries in this world, including some wealthy/developed countries, that manage to feed themselves fairly well without relying on cheap, shady labor practices heaped on the backs of an immigrant populace.

    I think Mr. Shore is missing the forest for the trees.

    Personally, I think a lot of the debate is a complete fabrication by politicians taking advantage of an ignorant, poorly educated populace (yes, most Americans with a typical K-12 public school education are poorly educated, sorry) to drum up votes. Tell them that the immigrants are stealing our jobs, our food, our wimmins, etc, and scream and spit a little, and boy howdy do you have a nice little platform to run on.

  • Ace

    It really depends on what part of the country you are in. Florida, for example, has a large Cuban community. Quite a lot of Guatemalans, Hondurans & Venezuelans in my neck of the woods. Surprisingly few actual Mexicans.

  • Whoah, gnat? Lol. Did I strike an artery there? I do apologize if I bugged you. Of course I have no idea whatsoever what you do with your own or any other money… except that you said that your salad becomes too expensive if something is done against the systematic exploitation of illegal immigrants in your country. Or did I misunderstand your point? Gnats don’t have much of a brain, you see. Also, it’s frightfully hard to read properly with those facetted eyes. I suppose, I better buzz off before you swat me…

  • Don Whitt

    I should have written, …”spend trillions to “solve” the issue of drugs and violence in Mexico”.

  • Anonymous

    But … how have you disagreed with me?

  • Maybe to Don – like to some insects – it sounded as if you agreed to leave things as they are, because it would be too expensive to do otherwise… but than, what does a gnat know. (At least, I‘m not a parastic bloodsucker… that’s only female gnats…)

  • Shadsie

    As long as there are exploitable people, they will be exploited. This is the way the world is, and I know by experience, even though I’m blond-haired and green-eyed.

    I’ve been hired for jobs with the promise “Oh, yeah, we’re looking for someone permanent” only for them to turn out only wanting a seasonal and leaving me sorry-outta-luck. I’ve also had the experience of working “under the table” cash-pay only (in order to keep certain benefits I needed, and because I… uh… have made a bad mistake in my past, meaning I don’t have a spotless record and I’m not someone most people want to hire). That person fired me and refused to give me my last pay – and there wasn’t much I could do about it because it was off-record. (She also had a couple of people with her who did not speak English, and I suspect she treated them worse).

    Also, I spent the first 25 years of my life in Arizona. I’ve known people who’ve done field work. I remember hearing a story from a doctor friend of mine who was doing his best to work with a couple of families whose boss refused to pay them their wages and kept them basically in slavery under the threat of deportation. (For this reason, when I hear people whine about how immigrants have it so good because they can “cross the boarder and immediately get benefits” I cringe and have to bite my tongue).

    If you’re in a powerless position, be careful, and expect people to try to take advantage of you, is all I can say.

  • Don Rappe

    “If we do the right thing by the Hispanics who live, work, and immigrate here, then life for all Americans will become so frightfully expensive it will plunge untold (more) numbers of us into poverty. ”
    I don’t agree with this. I think it’s nonsense. We used to do the right thing by immigrants and it didn’t plunge us into poverty. It won’t do that now either. Our economy would improve. Our immigration restrictions, beginning with the Chinese Exclusion Act have been primarily to serve racist interests. They have never served us economically. IMO.

  • Diana A.

    I don’t think unions are the problem anymore. Unions seem to have lost much of their power. I think it more likely that corporate greed is the problem.

  • Anonymous

    See, now, why tag on “I think it’s nonsense”? Just say you disagree. No need to be rude. Play nice.

    You people. I swear, I can’t take you anywhere.

  • Don Rappe

    I just meant there’s no market mechanism to raise the price of lettuce. Pickers would be just as free to take the wages or refuse them if they had papers.

  • Anonymous

    Lettuce is hard to grow. And it takes a butt load of water. Between the hours of labor fending off bunnies and irrigating my humble little garden, I wouldn’t mind paying double or triple what the traffic currently bears…bears?…bares…crap neither looks right…anyhow, one year, when I grew a closet crop of sinsemilla, my time (labor) electric bill for two mercury halogens, infrared heat lamp, and a hurricane fan for three months, ended up costing me 20% less than street value. Woohoo! Besides, there is hardly any nutritional value in lettuce…at least the iceberg variety.

  • I am in John’s corner with this. We exist with a double standard when it comes to inexpensive labor.

    It used to be that cheap labor, could be found by hiring teenagers and college students to work part time. Kids mowed yard, delivered papers and other goods, bagged groceries, babysat, worked in fast food chains or other restaurants, helped a local farmer pick tobacco. They weren’t paid much, but the earned enough to go to the movies with friends or save up for cars, or even help pay their way through college.

    Then some laws were passed. These laws were deemed to keep kids safer. So restrictions were put on when teenagers under the age of 18 could drive (like after dark). Restrictions were then put on employers as to what hours teens could work. Before you know it, it was increasingly difficult for a 16 year old to even get a job, because the hiring age at many places had suddenly risen to age 18. Yet employers still needed the lesser skilled workers. Enter the Hispanic work force.

    They are often over 18, are willing to work hard, quite often are very dedicated, exemplary employees, and are willing to work for those lesser wages, simply because those wages are far better then those available at their home towns.

    We simply traded available work forces, and yet we complain about it so.

    And for Don Rappe.

    We have a lousy track record for treating immigrants by doing the “right thing” by them. American history is riddled with our less then respectful treatment of people from all over the world, ask a descendant of a Chinese immigrant who helped build the Western American railroads, Or a Japanese in residence during World War 2, or Irish Catholics prior to the Civil War, The National Origins Act of the early 1920’s that deemed people from whole regions ineligible for immigration, like anyone from Asia.

  • Anonymous

    I have a k-12 education. An assumption that anyone shy of a college education is ignorant…is, well…ignorant.

  • Ace

    It was more a comment on the unfortunate state of the education system in this nation than anything else.

    Anyone with a drive to learn can educate him or herself, in spite of the system (rather than because of it).

    It has nothing to do with college degrees, really. There are a lot of PhDs who don’t seem to know much of anything out there as well.

  • Ace

    (FWIW, I’ve also met people who only graduated 8th grade who seem to know quite a lot. But the public schools are usually fairly constricted by politics and a lot of meddling. NCLB act for example. There’s a damn good reason teachers and parents hate it.)

  • jes

    There are actually some legal exceptions to the minimum wage, and agriculture work is one of them. Agriculture also gets exceptions for minimum age of hires. I was employed, entirely legally, with an hourly wage of $3.60, 6 days a week, rain or heat, every summer for 3 years. I worked in the spinach fields in Washington state with several other crews of (mostly white) 13-16 year olds who couldn’t get jobs in most businesses because we were underage. Most of my cousins worked similar jobs, either also on a spinach crew or picking strawberries or potatoes.

    Temporary employees do not (yet, anyway) qualify for medical benefits or paid leave in most jobs, agriculture or not, so hiring legal workers for harvest does not require those expenditures.

    I do not agree that there is no solution to this problem. I do agree that there is so much political BS and general apathy that getting people to actually DO SOMETHING about it will be very difficult.

    I think that entry to the US (both temporarily on a work visa and permanent immigration) should be simplified, so that there are more legal workers willing to do these jobs, and I think the workers taking these jobs should be paid and treated legally. And yes, I fully accept that this means paying more for a variety of produce.

    And I don’t have any sympathy whatsoever for the people who whine on and on about how migrant workers are “stealing American jobs”. The vast majority of people I’ve heard whinging about this were never even going to consider working in agriculture, let alone as a field hand. Increasing the availability of work visas will not in any way endanger most Staters’ jobs, because these are not jobs they were willing to do to start with. If they want the jobs to stay in American hands so badly, they should be sending their kids to work in the fields.

  • Ace

    ROMAINE, FTW! Iceberg is so passe’ anyhow.

  • Another exception to minimum wage is on wait staff. It is not at all unusual for a waiter or waitress to be paid about $3.00 an hour in actual salary and the rest is expected to be made up in tips,which of course are expected to be reported and taxed. The combined income ranges on average between $5 to $12 an hour, depending on where they work. Wait staff often does not qualify for health benefits, vacation pay, etc. The average annual income for a waiter falls between $13k to $27k annually, with likely the larger percentage of income earners in this field closer to the lower range. Plus you work your tail off for wonderful, no benefits salary.

    And jes, thanks for your input. Hearing from someone who has actually worked the type of work that you have puts some real perspective

  • Don Whitt

    I see what you did there…

    I think you posed the issue as nearly impossible to resolve and, in some ways, resolving it by “legalizing” currently illegal immigrant workers would make everyone worse off. I actually believe we’ll be in worse shape by not solving it. By far.

    So…maybe I disagree with you. Unless all you’re saying is that it’s a tough problem. Then I agree.

  • Don Whitt

    When I was a kid and lived in Iowa for awhile, the “punt” summer job for kids was “walking beans” (weeding soy bean and corn fields) and de-tassling corn. It payed next to nothing, was hot, humid work and no one wanted to do it. But kids did because it was they were expected to have summer jobs and, if they couldn’t get anything else, that’s what they did.

  • buzz

    Many undocumented workers receive as much take home pay as documented ones; the difference, of course, is that their employers pocket the SS, withholdings, etc.

    I will believe this country is serious about the problem when I seen them arresting & confiscating the property of people who hire undocumented workers.

  • Please don’t call things that are in no way slavery, “slavery”. Every time someone does that, it’s like they’re murdering me with their words. They’re committing terrorism against the English language.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, because you don’t want people using language in any sort of hyperbolic way, right? 🙂

  • Anonymous

    I think sancombmoran was comparing the argument for keeping illegal immigration status quo as being similar to the argument for keeping slavery in the south status quo. I don’t think he/she was comparing illegal immigration to slavery. There is no comparison as far as I can see.

  • Anonymous

    Depending on where you live, anyone may draw the attention of local bureaucrats. A co-worker had a nice backyard garden growing peppers, tomatoes, corn, onions, etc. Evidently, the local zoning authority had access to water district records, and it was apparent that the excess water use for my friend, was indicative of either an occupancy violation (too many residents per dwelling), or an unauthorized agriculture. They came knocking on his door with a warrant to search the exterior regions of his property. They deemed his modest little victory garden as an agricultural endeavor and not lawful within the city limits. They said he could apply for a zoning variance and obtain proper documentation to grow his own veggies, but the cost was prohibitive. Bart worked hard to become a citizen after immigrating from Central America. Yet once more, to scratch out a better living, he has become an undocumented farmer.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Shaunamac
    I wish it was that simple. I know I let my eyes dictate what I want instead of letting reason dictate what I need. All of us are similar whether we are a wealthy land owner with housekeepers, nannies, a staff of groundskeepers, stable crew, etc. Or just a regular schmuck with a mortgage, one car, cooking for, and raising his own two kids. It’s human nature to want more than we have…but everything costs us. If I take on more debt to go back to school and get a better paying position, I will find myself on top of the heap, but I will have missed being there for the last few years of my kids growing up. I suppose it’s all in what I consider to be true prosperity.

  • Anonymous

    My dad made me start taking summer jobs when I was 13. My first job was scraping hardened pie dough off a bakery floor every morning with a putty knife. Then mopping with scalding hot water, then washing all of the bowls, beaters, pans, whisks, etc. Miserable hot steamy, no air conditioning…constantly being called “lil shit” by some crotchety old retired swab cook for $1.25 an hour. Grunt jobs are invaluable. They provide the drive to become better educated and qualify for better work at better pay. Most importantly, those grunt jobs instill humility…I think the greatest injustice we do to our kids, is unwittingly robbing them of these humiliating posts and encouraging a greater sense of entitlement and self importance. Am I nuts?

  • No need to be rude. Play nice. Sound advice, old sport.

  • Don Whitt

    I think you are referring to the last generation or two – “the great generation” – the one that went to college on the GI bill and is comfortably retired on pensions. The “goodies and perks” I have are a shrinking 401K and the hope I can work until I die so I don’t end-up homeless. Unions have little power anymore in the US after bankrupting their industries with the aforementioned pension programs those companies can no longer afford. If you were lucky enough to get out in the 70’s or 80’s with a retirement package, you can comfortably sit at home collecting your checks, social security and have an attitude like yours about how babied those awful US workers are.

  • Don Whitt

    Are those jobs available anymore? I make my kid do that stuff at home, but I’ve got to imagine, these days, that adults are doing most of those jobs so they can eat.

    You know that glue on the spines of paper notepads and the cardboard binding on legal pads? I worked one summer painting that glue on the paper, shoved it through a heat oven where it baked, then separated the pads by hand with a waxed machete. Then I’d roll them to the guy that put the binding on them. I was at the ass-end of the assembly line. As a teamster, I got double minimum wage – about $8/hr. The guy before me in the line, who worked the pneumatic cutting system that turned a 4’x4′ stack into 4′ x 12″ “strips” of paper made $25/hr. The plant was unsustainable at those wages and was moved to Tijuana. Good times.

  • Don Whitt

    Oh, brother buzz,

    I hear this all the time about homeless people who beg on corners. That they’re making hundred$ a day and secretly live in nice homes, laughing at us suckers who donate to them.

    And, while a select few people make an okay living by begging, it’s the exception that serves as a rationalization for mean, angry people to be disdainful and selfish of the poor and dispossessed.

    I live in a farm community where 60% of the population is supported through day labor and I see their lives everyday. We feed their children at our schools so they have a decent meal everyday. Show me all those wealthy migrant workers, buzz. Show me the secret pocket of well-to-do, fat and happy farm workers.

  • jes

    Not nuts. My bf maintains that every one should be required to put in 2 years either military or service industry to instill some basic civility and humility. Says something, I guess, that he considers working as a waiter to be about the same level as boot camp. (And he’s done both.)

  • jes

    Some are, some aren’t. But I certainly see a lot of adults around this area whinging about being unemployed, but refusing to apply at a c-store because it’s “below” them. I have very little sympathy for that.
    What scrub jobs are available depends on the area, of course. I hired a couple kids this summer to pull brush, stack firewood, and build fences. They worked hard, I paid cash. Guess that means I’m one of those who hires undocumented workers, because I doubt they reported that income, and I know I didn’t go get a business license.

  • NYfive0

    The Emancipation Proclamation did NOT end slavery. It only applied to slaves in the seceding States and only then if they did not come back to the Union before January 1st, 1863. Not all states that allowed slavery seceded and not all states that allowed slavery were in what we think of as the South. Four states where slavery was legal — Delaware, Maryland, Missouri, and Kentucky — did not succeed from the Union. The EP was intended to keep Great Britain from entering the war on the side of the Confederacy. Even though slavery WAS the driving force behind the Civil War, it was not the only reason and Lincoln did not invade the South to free slaves.

    “If I could preserve the Union by freeing none of the slaves I would do it; if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union.” – Abraham Lincoln

    Regardless, the technology exist now to make the use of massive amounts of human labor in the fields unnecessary and would not contribute to the massive amount of crime and gang activity that results from illegal AND legal immigration from, mostly, third world countries. But, to be fair, it should be pointed out that immigration from certain European and Asian countries like Russia, Armenia, Bulgaria and China also contributes greatly to these problems. And let’s not forget the terrorism and monetary support for terrorism that results from immigration from various Middle Eastern countries. I realize some of you will disagree with this but I’m in law enforcement and ten hours a day, five or six days a week, for the last 17 years I’ve had to deal with the results of our asinine immigration policies. During that time I’ve seen first hand the drug dealing, kidnapping, robberies, rapes, etc. AND the hatred for this country that exist among many, but not all, immigrant groups.

  • No, I love hyperbole. I am offended on behalf of good hyperbole. You cannot love hyperbole without hating that “new class of slavery” remark. It was a fabulous post up till then. I am offended on behalf of the rest of Sancombmoran’s post.

  • Ace

    Both my parents being recently put out of work (mother laid off when the office she worked in closed, father forced into early retirement at the age of 58 with no 401k left after the stock market melted into oblivion) I have to agree with Don.

    Neither of my parents were in jobs were they were “babied” with “workplace culture” and picnics/social events or any of that other crap. Sorry Carolina Bound, but I think you’re a bit out of touch with what’s actually going on in this country.

  • Shaunamac

    Right you are. I was in Costco yesterday and was reflecting how we have come to expect that we can run into Costco and buy whatever we desire, cheaply and easily and quickly. Our society has an inflated sense of affluence — all the cheap consumer goods and cheap labor from overseas give us an overload and make us think we need more than we really do — Rather than being satisfied with what we have, we always want more – bigger and cheaper and faster.